‘Science is amazing’
Hutchinson Center researchers go the distance for science-minded students
By Colleen Steelquist, Hutchinson Center science editor
“It was so awesome! And cool! Science is amazing,” sighed my niece, Emily, who was grinning ear-to-ear and spitting out superlatives as she described shadowing two Hutchinson Center researchers as they bustled through their days.
She didn’t witness any whiz-bang, eureka moments in the researchers’ labs. But it’s all new and thrilling when you’re 17. Her face lit up like Christmas morning as she recalled learning how blood cells are separated and multiplied, hearing about the researchers’ educational and career paths, sitting in on meetings about the latest cancer treatment strategies, and fully absorbing both the workload and the lifesaving possibilities of a career marrying science and medicine. Just rubbing shoulders with real scientists made her giddy.
Emily was just one of many high school and college students on our campus this summer, a fortunate group who were able to see and do science firsthand. Many were here as part of our Summer Undergraduate Research Program, an annual nine-week investment that provides research experience and mentorship for college students interested in pursuing careers in biological research—with a special reach into populations traditionally underrepresented in science and health care.
A petri dish of possibilities
In addition to getting hands-on experience in labs or other types of research like population studies, the undergrads attended weekly workshops on how to write a personal statement, resume and abstract, graduate or medical school test preparation, how to successfully apply to such schools, how to prepare and present a scientific poster, and the ethics of research.
Based on their summer research project, each of these students prepared a poster describing their work, much like you’d see at a professional research symposium. At the poster session, they gamely summarized and answered questions about their projects to the faculty and staff who came by. I’m sure it was both exciting and nerve-wracking for the students.
The mentorship of students and young researchers—although fully deserving of recognition—is perhaps the least remarked on of all the activities that take place in the lab.
Our researchers are generous with their time and teaching, despite often staggering workloads. It helps that most are incredibly passionate about science. They eat, sleep and breathe it, and that enthusiasm is absolutely infectious.
A legacy of mentorship
It’s part of the long-running stream of research. Our scientists were once mentored by smart, inspiring people who showed them the possibilities and pitfalls, paving the way for their careers. Now they, in turn, are training up the next generation of researchers. And sometime in the future, perhaps this summer’s wide-eyed students will join the cycle, extending themselves on behalf of prospective scientists.
Our faculty has focused on equipping young people with the skills to be fully functioning members of the scientific community, able to prepare grant applications, review manuscripts, speak at conferences and engage with scientific administrators in a constructive manner. As mentors, they’ve demonstrated that an analysis of failure is as important as success. They’ve shared all the skills necessary for the aspiring students to carve out their own niches in the world.
By making science relevant and exciting, Center researchers laid out a path of possibilities for the summer students. As one of the summer interns, Brittni Wilson, a senior at Atlanta’s Spelman College, said, “This experience has greatly influenced my decision to become a researcher, and I’m leaving with a better understanding of epidemiology. While I had read about it, nothing compares to actually working in the field.” Wilson worked with Dr. Margaret Madeleine researching possible associations between women with breast cancer and anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
Nathan Ord, a senior at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., was mentored by immunologist Dr. Hootie Warren as he analyzed the antibody response to H-Y antigens in patients with graft-vs.-host disease.
What will he take away from his time at the Center? Ord said it’s the people he’s met. “Everyone in my lab was genuinely happy to be there, worked hard, but also managed to balance their lives,” he said. “I have a greater appreciation for the people who do research and the lifestyle they live. Not only are the people here benefiting the lives of thousands, if not millions of people through their work, but they are also having fun doing it.”
With students and mentors working this hard through the dog days of summer, it’s hard to believe school ever let out.